There's a danger with SUVs, but not the kind you might suspect. Should any lingering doubts exist that SUVs have inherited the automotive Earth, chew on this: Audi, the most recent luxury brand to the SUV playpen in the US, now counts 24 percent of all its USA sales from the Q5 column. But that's not dangerous. One other luxury car brand offers a staggering five different SUV models. But even that's not dangerous.
The danger is that, through better suspension (including sophisticated electronics that change to your whim or situational input) and better tires, SUVs are getting closer and closer in performance level to sports sedans. The danger is that even though the SUV already killed the American station wagon market, it's not satisfied. The SUV is coming after the hot sports sedan.
It's hard to believe that the SQ5 will gobble up Audi S4, BMW M3, or Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sales, but you have to ask yourself: how many buyers will dive that deeply into the performance envelope of those capable sports sedans? The full performance potential of the SQ5 will satisfy a large percentage of folks who plunk down the extra dosh for a legit sporting sedan... not all, but most.
The SQ5 is powered by the same new single-turbo 3.0-liter V6 from the S4 sedan and S5 coupe. It cranks out 354hp (264kW) and 369lb-ft (500Nm) of torque, all coursed through an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic with a conventional torque converter, not Audi's twin-clutch transmission. Though the previous supercharged SQ5 generated the same power, it made do with 25lb-ft (34Nm) less torque.
Audi claims a nippy 0-to-60 mph (97kph) blast in 5.1 seconds, no slouchy result for a 4,400-pound (2,000kg) crossover SUV. In fact, you miss almost nothing with this ZF-sourced automatic versus a dual-clutch automated manual. The SQ5 shifts rapidly when you're getting your Schumacher on and sedately as you chauffeur Aunt Mathilda.
Audi's drivetrain apportions power to all four wheels through the updated Quattro Ultra all-wheel-drive system, which can send 100 percent of the drive to either the front or rear axles. Optionally, that rear differential is available with a mechanical torque-vectoring assembly that can divert all rear axle power to the outside wheel. It's bundled with the S Sport package, which also adds adaptive air suspension, giving it multiple ride heights and red brake calipers.
Without the optional air suspension, the SQ5 sports 8.2 inches (208mm) of ride height, the same as the new Allroad. With air suspension, normal ride height is 1.2-in. (30mm) lower, at seven inches (178mm). The five-mode air suspension offers Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Allroad, and Lift/Off-Road settings, each with its own ride height, through Drive Select.
As the most extreme, Lift/Off-Road mode raises the vehicle two additional inches (nine total inches of ground clearance) and descends to standard height at the threshold of 15mph (24kph). The Allroad setting provides 1.2 inches (30mm) greater lift. Comfort and Auto retain the normal ride height (seven inches, or 178mm). Finally, ride height lowers by 0.6 inches (15mm) in Dynamic mode. Meanwhile, adaptive dampers are standard, offering Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings, all also influenced by which air suspension mode is chosen.
On the twisty bits of Vancouver Island, Canada, the SQ5 responded well, but not as well as an S4 did a couple of short months back in Southern California. As a 4,400-pound SUV, you simply cannot expect a thoroughbred's performance, though the SQ5 did well in most aspects of back-road hauling. However, other sporting SUVs from Alfa Romeo, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-AMG, and Porsche all do the same dance at least as well-a couple even better. Which is only so important and not likely a primary thought for most buyers. But the promise of performance is there, nonetheless.
Dynamic mode-with its firmed-up damping, stiffened steering, and extra sound through an engine-amplifying speaker under the windshield-gets closest to it, but nothing can eradicate the SQ5's sluggish steering turn-in. While the SQ5 grips at a level approaching a sports sedan, it does not turn into corners like one. This puts a slightly damp blanket over what otherwise amounts to some serious canyon-carving fun.
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